P1-25: Teaching Statistical Graphics and Visualization in a Modern, Data-Obsessed World

By Rebecca Nugent and Sam Ventura (Carnegie Mellon University)


The 2014 ASA Guidelines for Undergraduate Curricula in Statistical Science stressed the importance of incorporating skills in data manipulation and computation while simultaneously teaching statistical methods and practice with interdisciplinary or real-world applications. Statistical Graphics & Visualization lies at the intersection. With the explosion of data and the demand for related training, an undergraduate class in this area is more important than ever. Carnegie Mellon Statistics has offered Statistical Graphics & Visualization for over 15 years; the (small) initial student population was comprised of Statistics majors and students in search of an elective that focused on creating visualizations. In 2008, we revamped the course to include an infrastructure that builds in data type complexity and focuses on students learning to generate graphs as evidence for scientific research hypotheses. The course grew in popularity leaving us with wait lists of more than 100 students, some of which is attributable to general growth in the Statistics major but also to large demand from other programs such as Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Information Systems. Given fairly minimal prerequisites and a wide variety of student backgrounds, Graphics became a jumping off point for how to think about solving a problem from an exploratory, conceptual point of view. In the last two years, we have continued to update the course taking full advantage of the wide array of graphics tools and interfaces that are now implementable by students fairly new to Statistics (Shiny, RMarkdown, GGplot, etc.). The course now includes both static and dynamic projects and has moved toward even a more student-driven model of generating research hypotheses and projects. Demand has exploded; we are now offering the course three times a year and still cannot clear the wait list. This poster will detail the structural and pedagogical changes we have made in order to meet the varying needs of a large heterogeneous student population including wisdom gained and lessons learned. We will also make available demonstrations and illustrative projects.